Online learning is the face of the future, says visiting expert

Online learning is growing at an astronomical rate and postsecondary institutions will have to board the e-learning rocket or risk extinction. Curtis Bonk (right), associate professor of educational psychology with Indiana University and a global expert on e-learning, delivered that message – ebulliently – during his keynote address to mark the Dec. 8 opening of the Seneca/York TEL Institute.

In a talk entitled “Active Learning with Technology: Myths, Magic, or Just a lot of Bonk”, the energetic lecturer outlined a future of global learners and an end to barriers, bricks and mortar. E-forums between scientists stationed at the North Pole and students in a classroom are already happening, and students of the future will enjoy virtual field experiences on Mars. “There are all sorts of places to learn; eventually we will be doing interplanetary chats. If you think about it, every place where man has been, we have been able to go via the Internet,” said Bonk.

“Wireless technology will see learners working while sitting at a bus stop, students will be able to take their learning outside, in fact the world outside the four walls of a classroom will become more important than what happens inside a building,” he said.

Futuristic motion-capture suits and other portable technologies will enhance students’ field experiences

“Students will be able to wear technologies while out in the field and send their experiences back to the classroom,” suggested Bonk. “There are all sorts of places to learn.”

Instructors can blend the wealth of educational material available on the Internet with classroom instruction, online mentoring and discussion forums. Students will be able to access their courses 24/7 and can customize their learning.

“If they miss a class, they can review the class later with video streaming,” said Bonk. Flexibility, accessibility and opportunity to expand learning are up for grabs for institutions willing to take the leap and invest in online education.

“Everything from certificates to graduate degrees are now offered online,” said Bonk. In the United States, he noted, there are three million students taking courses online and 97 per cent of public universities are now offering at least one course online.

An early convert to the educational advantages offered by the Internet, Bonk has spent the last decade navigating the globe to promote his philosophy of barrier-free e-learning. With over 100 publications to his credit, including two books, 20 journal chapters, 14 book chapters and a host of technical reports, Bonk has presented his vision of e-learning to educational leaders, the US military and corporate executives.

Practising what he preaches, Bonk has also led his students in a global online journey. They have worked online with students in Finland, Korea, Peru and the United Kingdom to share experiences, expertise and internships. The advantages of online learning are limitless, he maintains. “Group problem solving, virtual conference attendance, mentoring, case studies, role playing and simulation, the opportunities are all there online,” said Bonk.

“Studies show there is no sign of differences between the effectiveness of teaching online vs. face to face delivery of instruction, so we don’t really need the bricks and mortar,” he said. “The Sloan Institute [an eminent US think tank] determined that in five to 10 years, online learning will be superior to face to face learning with better student outcomes.”

Bonk donned Mickey Mouse ears to drive home his message – in a high-pitched voice – regarding “Minnie-Myths” about learning technologies

Students will come to expect more from their instructors and academic institutions and Bonk believes the demand for access for courses online will only escalate. “The instructor’s role will be divided into many tracks, including technical specialist, personal guide, online facilitator, course developer, program manager and freelance online instructor. This is exciting and presents challenges.”

Higher education institutions will have to offer more in the way of internal and external supports to their instructors to help them stay ahead of the tidal wave of technology. “The corporate sector wants us to think there is only one way to deliver learning and that is by facing a computer, but that is just not true.”

Tablet personal computers will allow students in one building, campus, university or country to work collaboratively with students in a similar program in another institution. Video streaming and video conferencing will reduce costs by allowing instructors to bring in experts on-screen, without having to transport the expert onsite. “This saves money and enhances learning,” said Bonk.

In some cases the rocket has already left the planet, said Bonk, with sites like offering peer-rated resources. “Everything from anthropology to zoology and everything in between is available on this site. I use to find reviews, simulations, analysis and examples of virtually everything I need.”

The potential of global learning and resource sharing to expand instructor and student horizons is limitless, he said. “Blended learning is possible, different learning styles can be addressed, it forces us to think about teaching practices, lowers drop-out rates and moves from concrete to reflective to abstract thinking and learning.”

Online learning, said Bonk, offers the potential to “read, reflect, display and do” for students and teachers. He called  it the “R2D2” of education.

Fittingly, the full video stream of Bonk’s presentation along with his PowerPoint slide support materials can be viewed by visiting

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